Pablo Zabaleta revealed Manchester City players were putting Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo up in the locker room after being taken over in 2008.

Zabaleta joined City from Espanyol in that year as the Abu Dhabi United Group took over the club, leading to big spending by the Premier League outfit.

The full-back said City players were preparing to welcome Barcelona star Messi and Ronaldo, then at Manchester United, to the club.

"Ten days after my arrival, the purchase of the club by the people of Abu Dhabi is executed," Zabaleta told La Nacion.

"Four days later, they invest £40million for Robinho and there I said, 'Now what do I do? I'm going to last six months here.'

"We took it a bit as a joke and ... in the locker room we started putting 'Messi', 'Cristiano Ronaldo'. We were s******* ourselves."

Zabaleta, who left City for West Ham in 2017, is nearing retirement from club football.

The 35-year-old last played for Argentina in 2016 and the 58-time international discussed Messi's impact on the nation, saying it was greater than just on the field.

"In addition to everything it would have lacked on the field, without Leo, the AFA [Argentine Football Association] would have had much less money," Zabaleta said.

"Of course Leo generated fabulous income and that meant that Argentine clubs also had more money. In the improvements of the infrastructure of Argentine soccer, there is Leo.

"Leo is a product that generates millions, and Argentine football will have to be grateful all his life because for him, the AFA had millions of dollars that he will surely have poured into the clubs."

Pablo Zabaleta could end up retiring this year with the coronavirus pandemic making him question his desire to continue playing.

Former Manchester City and Argentina international Zabaleta is contracted to West Ham until the end of the Premier League season, which has been suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

There is no date set for the resumption of football in England, though it is hoped teams can return to training in the coming weeks and matches can be played behind closed doors from mid-June.

Zabaleta, 35, is in his 12th season in the Premier League and had been considering a move to Serie A before hanging up his boots. However, the pandemic may have put paid to such plans.

Asked what his future holds if the Premier League does not return, the right-back told La Nacion: "I think about it every day. I wake up thinking, 'Is this what awaits me after retirement?'

"Now, somehow, we'll go back to training and we will see. But it's all still uncertain.

"I had even come to think, at the end of this season, to give myself the joy of playing one more season in another league, perhaps in Italy, but now I don't know.

"The chances are you won't play in front of a crowd, so what motivation could I have left? Why go to Italy if mythical stadiums like the Olimpico in Rome or San Siro will be closed?

"Now, let's wait to see how this season ends, and then, in the European summer, depending on how everything is rearranged, I'll see what I do.

"But retirement is a possibility, yes. Maybe the coronavirus will make me anticipate the decision."

Zabaleta had discussed returning to San Lorenzo, where he took his first steps in professional football, with club president Marcelo Tinelli last year, but his family situation makes it difficult for him to envision a move to Argentina.

"It's true that I had contact with Tinelli last summer and I told him that we could talk at the end of the season, but today Argentina is not a priority," said Zabaleta.

"Also for family reasons; my wife is Catalan and the boys are very young.

"I don't want to rule anything out, but no. I prefer to leave my future in the air a little so that I can analyse what to do in a moment of greater stability.

"No one expected this virus. It is the first time that something like this has happened in many generations and it will definitely change our lifestyle."

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